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Sports Innerview with Ann Liguori: A visit down Memory Lane with the pioneering sportscaster and her Iconic guests

Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, and Ted Williams (© Getty Images)

Sitting face-to-face with Mickey Mantle on that beautiful autumn day in 1989, conversing with him like we’d known each other for years, is forever stamped in my memory bank. He was 57 years old at the time, so very willing to look back and share his stories and thoughts on his seemingly mystical career and how times had changed since the kid from Commerce, Oklahoma with Robert Redford-like good looks grabbed the headlines with the New York Yankees from 1951 to 1968. I was in my 20s, well-entrenched in my career as a sport’s broadcaster as the host of “Hey Liguori, What’s the Story,” a weekly sport’s call-in show on WFAN-NY; contributing sports articles to USA Today and prior to that, having covered every team in New York as an independent reporter/producer for ABC Sports Radio Network. My dream from my earliest days was to host and produce a TV interview show with top personalities in sports, entertainment and business. Little did I know back then that Sports Innerview would go on to air weekly for 17 straight years and that Mickey Mantle would become the first of 500-plus guests on the show.

Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant on Central Park South in Manhattan was a bustling, exciting eatery when it was open from 1989 to 2012. Every time I visited the popular restaurant, and the legendary N.Y. Yankee was there, he always made time to say hello. And it was there that my very first Sports Innerview Cable show was taped.

When my weekly cable show, Sports Innerview, came to fruition, I was determined to get the seven-time World Series champion on the show as my very first guest. I asked my friend Bill Liederman, who was one of the owners of Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant, if he could help coordinate the interview. Knowing Mantle and his affinity for drinking, Liederman made certain that we timed the interview before “happy hour,” meaning before Mickey would have a cocktail, (or two, and so on). And so, Mantle became the very first guest on my show, and Sports Innerview was launched.

I found Mantle to be humble, a true gentleman, a fascinating storyteller and still exhibiting the “down-home” charm of a country bumpkin. The 1956 Triple Crown winner told me that the thing he remembered about his 17-year career with the New York Yankees, “more than anything else — and I was a shortstop at that time, and supposedly going to take Phil Rizutto’s place when he quit — was the first day I walked out of the clubhouse into Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were playing the Boston Red Sox, and there must have been 67,000 people in the stadium. I know it was full. And I think the Yankee Stadium held over, right around 70,000 at that time, and there was. It was completely packed, and I was scared to go out in the infield and take infield or take batting practice or anything. So I think how big it was, is what got me, more than anything else.”

We talked about the pressure of his coming to the “Big Apple,” being from a small town and arriving to a team that created baseball legends like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio! And then Mickey Mantle came along!

“Casey (Manager Casey Stengel) put a lot of pressure on me, to tell you the truth,” shared Mantle. “I mean, he was great for me. He’s the one that made them keep me in the first year and everything, but he put a lot of pressure on me by saying that I was going to be the next Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio all rolled into one. It didn’t work out that way. I mean, at first, I had a hard time. I was leading off for the Yankees, but I was leading the team in RBIs, but I was striking out a lot, and I just lost my confidence. You know, I got to where I didn’t feel like I could play. And when you lose your confidence as a hitter, that’s the worst thing that can happen to you … I was like the heir apparent, you know what I mean?” Mantle continued. “At first, like I said, I was going to be a shortstop and after they saw me play shortstop for a couple of times, they said we better get him off shortstop and they put me in the outfield, and then I was supposed to take Joe DiMaggio’s place, which is harder to do than replacing Phil, I guess, you know? Anyway, I didn’t, it didn’t work out that way, and Casey had sent me back down to the minor leagues and let me get my confidence back.”

Then our conversation turned to discussing what the media pressure was like when he played, and Mantle got really animated when describing how different it was then.

“Media pressure?” the 16-time All-Star lit up as he spoke. “There was like 25 guys following us everywhere we went. I mean we had more sports writers in those days than they have now! It’s just that I think we knew each other a lot better because we traveled on trains, you know? I mean, me and Billy (Martin) and Whitey (Ford) would get the sportswriter’s shoes and tie them together, you know, on the trains where they’d put them up in a locker there and the porter will come by and shine them overnight… It was more like a family type deal than it is now. I don’t think that players get to know the writers that well anymore, you know?”

When I brought up the subject of his teammate Roger Maris, both of them chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961, with Maris accomplishing the tremendous feat, smacking 61 out of the ballpark, Mantle was intent on expressing his admiration for his good buddy.

“People always asked me, ‘What was your and Roger’s relationship like in ‘61?’” offered Mantle. “You know, when Roger hit the 61 home runs, there was a lot written that it was a grudge battle between me and him, and that’s the farthest thing from the truth … We got along really good and that was my favorite team, the ‘61 Yankees … Roger gave me a baseball just before he passed away, and it had his picture on one side of it, his face on one side of it, and on the other side he put ‘To Mickey, the greatest of them all. Your friend, Roger Maris.’ And that’s my favorite treasure. We’re going to put it back here by the painting of me and Roger here in the restaurant.”

During this moment on the show, Mantle took the ball out of the showcase that was attached to the wall in the “Roger Maris Booth” to show it to me. His voice cracked with emotion as he showed me his prized possession and recalled the glory days he shared with his buddy.

To watch the complete Sports Innerview show with guest Mickey Mantle and hear Mantle share more stories about his life and career, or to find other episodes of the show please visit sportsinnerview.com. To contact Ann Liguori, please email her at annliguori@icloud.com.

All material in this article is copyright, Ann Liguori Productions.